It was probably 2009 – one of my first times I was in Tokyo. I was walking out of Harajuku train station on a Sunday, and noticed this lady ahead of me. She had her handbag casually slung behind her, and I noticed, to my surprise, a handphone was sticking out of the bag’s front slot. Back then, I thought to myself, is she not afraid that someone will steal her phone? Does she trust her surroundings so much? Wouldn’t there be thieves?
On another morning, I went to Disneyland Tokyo. Near rides, many prams were parked at a corner, unattended, bags and knick-knacks placed together with the prams. Again, I noted this with surprise, wondering about the issue of thefts.
Fast forward to 2015, I took a ten-day trip to Tokyo and Kyoto and noticed two distinct traits about the Japanese that would have influenced their behavior in everyday life. Note: these are my own observations from my personal experiences.
Walking alone feels safe.
Crime rates in Japan are reported to be low. As I’ve only been to Tokyo and Kyoto in Japan, I can only write about walking alone in these two cities when the sky has turned dark. Tokyo wins my top vote as a safe city for solo female travelers. I’m very sure I will never feel the same when it comes to Europe, Malaysia or anywhere else, other than Singapore. I’m going to attribute it to personal integrity observed by individuals in Japan.
Souvenirs are not crazily priced.
If you visit popular tourist attractions in Japan, you might notice that the items sold at souvenir shops at these popular spots are not as expensive as you would have expected. Why?, I wondered, when the merchants can easily jack up the prices since crowds are guaranteed? Souvenirs at the always-crowded Nakamise shopping street towards Senso-ji shrine in Asakusa are of affordable prices. So were the shops outside Fushimi Inari, despite Fushimi Inari winning the most popular attraction on TripAdvisor for Kyoto.
I suspect this boils down to observing integrity even when you operate as a business, hence ripping tourists off are a no-no.
Respect towards other people and the surroundings
I can write a lot about this point.
Trains and roads are QUIET.
On trains, announcements will remind you to turn your phone silent, or to switch them off completely if you’re near Reserved seats. You’re not supposed to be speaking on the phone. Therefore, train rides (not referring to rush hours) are actually quite peaceful because all you hear are the sound of the trains as well as announcements. The respect towards other commuters in shared, confined public spaces is clear.
On roads, when lights are red, I hardly hear noisy engines of cars. They’re either quiet cars, or the drivers switched off the engines till the lights turn green.
Customers come first.
At entrances, be it shrines or restaurants, the staff is always bowing, with a polite smile, a welcoming gesture of the hand, and the delightful-sounding “Dozo”.
Service standards in Japan are also known to be outstanding. I purchased a Samantha Thavasa bag and the saleslady, after processing the transaction at the cashier, held my paper-bag and personally walked me to the door, courteously, waving bye and constantly bowing too. The same happened when I bought a Makavelic bag in Harajuku. As a customer, I felt like a VIP!
Few years back, I once encountered stepping into Isetan at Shinjuku when the departmental store just opened in the morning. It was overwhelming. Welcoming music jingled in the background, the staff all stood along the rows and aisles and kept bowing and greeting me as customers enter the store for the day. In fact, I felt so bad for the employees (and their backs).
Cyclists give way to pedestrians.
The cyclists I encountered on pavements in Kyoto are careful towards pedestrians, actively giving way and in fact, they’re so careful and quiet about it, you don’t feel intimated or get shocked by any sudden and rude ringing of the bell.
Floors are clean.
In Kyoto, we walked from our apartment to Kyoto Train Station, and there was not a trash bin to be found along the way. There were only little slots for drink cans as dustbins next to vending machines, but not a general trash bin. Yet, the floors everywhere are always free of trash. A true, clean environment made possible by the practices and consideration of the people living there.
They sort their trash.
In Japan, the people sort their trash into different recycling formats, even the trash bins at Mcdonald’s! This entire recycling process has long been a part of the Japanese’s lifestyle. We see the respect the Japanese have for their environment.
The levels of respect the Japanese give to the people in their surroundings would have resulted in the way they behave towards others. The Japanese and their ways of life are really interesting to observe and understand. I certainly hope to have more opportunities for extended stays in the Land of the Rising Sun!